Well, it took some time, but we are at lucky 19 in our ewe flock. This was our first lamb born this year, and the last one I'm blogging about during our annual tour of the flock.
Kahlua is out of Wintertime Grasshopper and Winter Sky Vogue. Both of the parents are fine, and I am particularly fond of Vogue. She just has a look about her that I like. She's of average size for the breed (I would say 75-80 pounds). This lamb is moorit, but a bit lighter than say Coloma or Kahlua. She's not modified though. She does carry spots (for what that's worth) and is super fine (at least I would say she is without having micron reports to prove it). She is one of those lambs who will need some time to develop. She looks different than all of our other lambs in both type and fleece, so we'll see how she turns out. If you see her from a distance, you'd say she has a primitive fleece because it appears longer and open. But it's really not that way at all once you take a closer look. It's actually one of our finer fleeces from this year's crop. It's just a different type. The old notion that there were somehow three distinct fleece types with Shetlands just isn't so. Even within single-coated Shetlands, there are very different types. This is an example of one of them.
To be honest, I could care less about the types as long as they are consistent from front-to-back and don't have excessive tip. Tip is indicative of guard hairs (which are longer and coarser than the other fibers). Guard hairs ruin an otherwise fine Shetland fleece.
I have heard it said that some spinners like the long, straight fleeces. To that I say, to each his/her own. In talking with spinners, I think the long straight fibers are easier to spin. But if you want to make products that are itch-free and elastic, those Shetland fleeces aren't going to get the job done. At any rate, we have all single-coated Shetlands here at Whispering Pines. We've experimented with different types, and we arrived here after many years of disappointments with fleeces. We even purchased fleeces from other people just to see if we could find some fine, double-coated fiber. I had heard good things about them, but I tend to require data and evidence before I climb on board the band wagon. Some of the double-coated fleeces are soft and silky, but unless you are going to separate the two coats (which can be quite difficult to do), you can forget about calling roving or yarn from such fleeces "fine". The average might be fine, but there is so much variation within the fleece that you will have a large percentage over 30 microns, which is the absolute upper threshold for scratchiness. Most people prefer fiber that is finer than that.
Bottom line, this lamb is not typical for our flock, but she is very fine and consistent. In fact, I like the idea that she might have a 4" plus fleece that is crimpy, fine, and consistent. That's all I really ask for in our flock. I like density too, but we require fine, crimpy, and consistent.
This is a nice Shetland lamb. She isn't the last one I'm blogging about for any particular reason. Someone had to run the anchor leg. Another thing I like about her (and really all of the lambs) is that I like the pedigree. Having experimented with so many Shetland bloodlines, we have determined that some produce well pretty often, and some just don't. A lot of that has to do with several generations of good and bad breeding. This isn't a breed that is going to kick out lambs of predictable quality year in and year out, but if you go after the right bloodlines, your chances are much higher.
I hope everyone has enjoyed our little flock tour this year. I wish more people would do this, because, quite frankly, I enjoy seeing what other people have and why they like them. It's not a judgmental thing; it's just easier than traveling around visiting different flocks. I would rather visit flocks in person, but it's not very practical. Oddly enough, I learned things about our flock by doing this series of posts. Writing for me is sort of relaxing, but it forces a harder evaluation of our flock. I don't like to say things that aren't true. If I say something about one of our sheep, you can be sure I really believe it, and I can tie the statement back to the Shetland standard. As I've said before, there is a substantial lack of knowledge in this country about the Shetland breed. As a person who believes in maintaining the breed the way they are in the UK, I hope that people see this and a light goes on. We had a Jamieson and Smith customer approach us at one fiber event this past fall, and they were shocked that you could buy something similar in the US. She wasn't looking for lace weight (which we did have), but something else that escapes me at the moment.
We're just plugging along trying to do our part in showing fiber and sheep people that this breed is useful as a production animal, not just as a pet (although they surely make nice pets as well). We have bags of britch wool and skirtings that people buy for knitting because it's better than some of the stuff they usually encounter. Not everyone needs or wants to pay $2 an ounce for raw Shetland fiber. And we don't charge that for everything either. In fact, we sell more of the fine or good shetland fiber than we do the super fine stuff.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. That's the ewe flock heading into the winter. Some will be bred and some won't be. But that's a topic for another time.